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Westminster police officers justified in shooting man holding what appeared to be a gun, investigators find

The police officers involved in a nonfatal shooting of Thomas Charles Henson, 29, in Westminster on April 3 were found to be legally justified in their use of force.

Maryland State Police conducted the investigation and presented evidence to the State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo, whose office issued the finding.

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He said in a news release, “The independent investigation of the Maryland State Police clearly demonstrates that these officers attempted to de-escalate this situation at every opportunity to gain the compliance of Mr. Henson, who threatened the officers and the public by brandishing what very much appeared to be a rifle capable of seriously injuring or killing a person. It is clear that they fired their weapons at Mr. Henson only when left with no other choice.”

Investigators found that what appeared to be a rifle and Henson described to officers as a “gun” was actually a Winchester Air Rifle – Model 1100S.

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The officers fired 28 rounds and struck Henson three times, twice in the abdomen and once in the knee, investigators found. He was flown to the Shock Trauma center in Baltimore.

The investigation into Henson is continuing and he had not yet been charged with anything Thursday.

DeLeonardo said in an interview that investigators verified information through tools including scene reconstruction and interviews with civilian and police witnesses. The Westminster Police Department does not use body cameras.

In a news release, the State’s Attorney’s Office shared findings from the investigation. Officers were dispatched to the area of the Green Street Bridge on Friday after the Westminster Police Department received a citizen complaint that a man was carrying a rifle. Officers arriving on scene saw a man, later identified as Henson, walk up a hill from the railroad tracks to the grassy field behind 6 Green Street while carrying what appeared to be a black rifle.

Henson was carrying the rifle pointed up at first and ordered him to put the weapon down several times while trying to de-escalate the situation. Henson refused, according to the statement, and said “I don’t have to put the gun down."

Henson raised the weapon to his shoulder, took a “fighting stance,” and pointed the weapon at officers while they continued to order him to drop the weapon, according to the statement. When Henson moved his finger to the rifle’s trigger area, the officers fired numerous shots at Henson.

Henson “eventually” fell to the ground and dropped the weapon, at which time officers stopped firing, approached to remove the weapon from his reach and start emergency first aid while calling for medical services, according to the release.

DeLeonardo said he was “extraordinarily grateful” that no officers and members of the public were harmed in the incident.

On Wednesday, the Westminster Police Department released the names of the officers involved: Sergeant Christopher Workman, a patrol supervisor and 12-year police veteran; Acting Corporal Ashley Stahlman, an assistant patrol supervisor and three-year police veteran; Detective Timothy Pheabus, a criminal investigator and 19-year police veteran; Officer Brian Smith, a patrol officer and 1.5-year police veteran; and Officer James O’Brien, a patrol officer and 10-year police veteran.

The officers were placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of the investigation. Before they return to street duty, Westminster’s police chief must review the investigation and the officers must participate in a review by a department psychologist. Major Pete D’Antuono said this process may take about two more weeks because providers are not seeing many people in person in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

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